Two members of an internationally renowned Canadian navy diving unit were convicted yesterday of poaching lobsters in a case that a military prosecutor says has tarnished the name of the navy.
In separate courts-martial yesterday, Petty Officer 1st Class Anne Menard was fined $2,000 and Leading Seaman Joseph Tremblay was ordered to pay $4,000 after they pleaded guilty to illegally catching the lobsters out of season from navy boats last year.
LS Tremblay, 36, who participated in two poaching expeditions where a total of about 75 kilograms of lobster were taken, pleaded guilty to fishing during a closed season, catching undersized lobsters, taking a female lobster that was carrying eggs and improper conduct in using a military boat.
PO1 Menard, 37, pleaded guilty to fishing during a closed season and conduct contrary to good order and discipline in using a navy boat improperly.
Prosecutor Captain Nancy Koppang said the fishing violations were very serious and came at a time when the issue of conserving the declining lobster stocks was widely discussed in the media.
"This is not something to be taken lightly," she said. "This was not something that made the Canadian Forces look good at all."
Capt. Koppang noted that the incidents were widely publicized and she speculated that there would be more negative publicity after the courts-martial.
"The navy name has been tarnished as result of this," she said.
PO1 Menard and LS Tremblay were among nine members of the Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic who were charged last fall with illegally fishing and violating the military code of conduct after two incidents in which navy divers plucked the crustaceans off the ocean floor. One member of the unit has been convicted and fined $3,000 in Esquimault, B.C., and charges have been dropped against another person.
The other courts-martial are scheduled for later this year.
The incident occurred a year after the elite diving unit was commended by the Department of National Defence for the courage and perseverance of its members in the recovery effort of Swissair Flight 111, which crashed near Peggys Cove killing all 229 passengers in September of 1998.
The poaching also occurred as fishery scientists and fishermen were warning that lobster stocks were declining. There was a great deal of media coverage on the status of the stocks as well as the threat posed by out-of-season fishing by native people.
Capt. Koppang said both PO1 Menard, who was involved in the fishing trip of Sept. 16 to catch lobsters for a farewell party for a New Zealand diver, and LS Tremblay, who was involved in that incident and a subsequent expedition Oct. 2, should have known that what they were doing was wrong.
Joel Pink, the lawyer for both defendants, told reporters outside the court that the poaching incidents and their aftermath have damaged morale in the navy diving unit.
"They used to be a very tight unit. Now that this has happened everybody is going their own way," he said. "There is not the family atmosphere they once had."
But navy spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Glenn Chamberlain said the convictions should not overshadow the accomplishments of the Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic.
"Obviously these events that these members have been involved in don't add to the good name of the unit but there are many other aspects and activities that do," he said.